Score: 91/100 (9.1 out of 10)
Noah's Quest is a brave, valiant, and impressive first attempt at a novel by the young writing prodigy, Sev Emanuel Pretila! Pretila wrote this book between the ages of 12-15. With that in mind, it really is impressive. What kind of stories were you writing when you were in your early teens? Would you be brave and confident enough to publish them for the world to see? Probably not. Pretila, on the other hand, not only created an original story and characters, he was brave and confident enough to share it with the world. So, major credit and props there. At the same time, we are still forced to judge this book fairly and impartially against the other books in the genre. Even then, it still fairs relatively well.
Our overall feeling about this book is that it is a mostly-solid fantasy tale. We will say, in all honesty, that it seemed to have a very rough and slow start filled with a lot of exposition (explaining and narration) and not much action aside from a little chase scene that was later played off for laughs. That was probably the most unfortunate thing about this book because it did pick up near the middle (past page 45 or so), eventually recapturing the spirit of action and adventure that we all originally signed up for.
It does have a pretty standard storyline that should be familiar to most fans of fantasy: a chosen one of seemingly humble birth is selected by a wise person wielding a magical staff (i.e. a Merlin archetype) that determines he is the one who will turn the tide in a great conflict by obtaining a magical object to destroy another magical object. It's pretty standard stuff. It's par for the course. However, don't let that dissuade you from giving this book a chance, because, like we alluded to before, it does become quite a unique and worthwhile read near the midpoint.
Let's touch on the plot and give it some of its due respect.
Two northern kingdoms, that of dwarves and Kastelot, are at war. The Dwarf King has acted to drain the magic and life out of all other lands, dramatically harming the living things in those regions as well as the landscape. We are first introduced to this crisis from the perspective of a female bird who is unable to find building materials for her nest due to the destruction of the environment. Something admirable about this book is that, despite it probably fitting well for middle-grade readers, it's very safe and appropriate for kids in general. There's no extreme violence and the suffering of the characters is kept to a minimum, although you do get a minor tragedy that's glanced over in the background. Disney or Don Bluth would've pushed the envelope far more than this book did. This means that parents don't have to worry about purchasing something inappropriate for their kids. On the other hand, it does kind of lessen the tension and drama of the conflict, which might seem to be quite tame to most experienced (adult) readers.
Noah is the chosen one, selected by the village chieftain (“Chief”), or rather by Chief's magical Staff of Wisdom. It is prophesied that Noah is destined to find the mystical Sword of Power and destroy the Dwarf King's Magic Jewel, the cause of the war and suffering. There's also a queen in here somewhere who continuously showers Noah with praise for his bravery and reaffirms that he is the chosen one destined to bring balance to the Force and not leave it in darkness. The truth is, many of the characters in the first half of the book are not all that interesting or memorable. However, the characters in the second half of the book are terrific and very memorable.
In the second half, readers are introduced to two very charismatic, fun, and lovable characters in Madi and Mr. Rainbow Pie. Madi is a cute, young witch who has been rejected by others due to being, well, a witch. Her parents are said to have been killed by a vicious dragon. We eventually see that dragons are some of the main allies or vehicles of war used by the dwarves. Madi is a very endearing female character who proves herself to be an extremely helpful ally similar to Steffi in Ring Fold by Scott Swisher.
Mr. Rainbow Pie is a highly-intelligent, highly-skilled, and very versatile flying unicorn who talks, acts, and behaves like a very curious human (with the added benefit of being, well, a flying unicorn). Mr. Rainbow Pie is the perfect combination of cuteness and coolness, arguably the best and most unique character in the whole book.
Madi and Mr. Rainbow Pie really steal the show from Noah, the main protagonist, and his entourage back home. What is it about Noah, the Chief, and the Queen that let them be overshadowed so much by these other characters? At first, we couldn't put our finger on it, but then it became pretty obvious. Noah, the Chief, and the Queen just feel like standard self-insert characters who fit a certain archetype. They were probably based on the author's family and friends. They almost seem obligatory and, so, feel a bit hollow, like, “I put you in my book, isn't that cool?” Noah is a standard good-hearted, chosen-one protagonist who even gives the dwarves the benefit of the doubt by deflecting blame away from them because his heart is so good and pure. His heroic destiny seems to be a forgone conclusion. Now, you could make the argument that Noah isn't always perfect. For example, he was initially distrustful of Madi despite the great help she'd been to him.
Ultimately, Madi and Mr. Rainbow Pie are really the characters who add the magic and uniqueness back into this book. Without them, we'd likely have a much dryer book. They really elevate things.
The writing in this book is solid to good. It is especially impressive considering the age and experience-level of the writer. Some of the descriptions and details, especially regarding the landscape and background, are actually beautiful. The art is presentable and adequate. Would we have liked to see a bit more detail? Perhaps.
One thing we did notice is that about 80-90% of the pictures of Noah are from the same angle with him having the same expression regardless of what's going on. It is possible that the family submitted one photo of the real-life Noah to be used by the artist as a reference, and the artist just ran with it the whole way. Madi and Mr. Rainbow Pie, of course, look fantastic. The landscape and overall backgrounds look colorful and inviting. The dragons and knights also look cool, although it is a bit funny to see them all smiling (yes, even the dragons) while they're in the middle of heated combat. All in all, we'll give this book a few extra points for the colorfulness and cuteness of the illustrations.
Check this out on Amazon! You and your kids might really enjoy this fantastical adventure!